BWW Review: UNSEEN AYCKBOURN by Simon Murgatroyd
In addition to being the creator and administrator of Ayckbourn's website, Murgatroyd has written extensively about the playwright for a number of publications - including articles for the programs of world premiere and West End productions of many Ayckbourn plays. He has been working with the archive since 2005 and oversaw its transfer to the University of York in 2011.
Now Murgatroyd has released a revised edition of his book UNSEEN AYCKBOURN, which was named as one the best theatre books of 2013 by The Stage (a UK newspaper and website). With more than 80 plays to his credit, it stands to reason that Ayckbourn would have some 'unseen' and 'unheard' material. Murgatroyd chronicles these anomalies alphabetically, letting us know why the work never joined the canon. The book also features illustrations of items drawn from the archive, many written in the playwright's own hand.
Although this is a book for the ardent Ayckbourn aficionado, it also features a lot of fascinating information about some of his best known plays - something for the casual playgoer. For example, his world famous trilogy about the affairs of an amorous librarian wasn't titled THE NORMAN CONQUESTS until the plays reached London. In their Scarborough world premiere each play was billed by its own title, only one of which survived the journey to the West End.
While most times Ayckbourn writes a play and titles it later, ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR proved to be the exception. Ayckbourn fancied the title but had no idea what play he would write to suit it. The title was contrived in the elevator going to see his producer, Michael Codron. When that play didn't materialize, he gave the title to another - the three kitchen Christmas-time comedy which is now one of his most-produced plays.
Another popular title, BEDROOM FARCE, belongs to a play that is technically not a farce at all. He initially titled it BEDROOM FARCE, A COMEDY. Ayckbourn promoted it by saying"It'll have everything about bedrooms but copulation, something which I believe is hardly practiced in the British bedroom anyway." When the play premiered, the title was shortened, causing many to think it to be a door-slamming, pants-dropping farce in the great British tradition, when in fact is a traditional comedy that just happens to be set in bedrooms.
According to UNSEEN AYCKBOURN, the earliest extant play of Sir Alan's is THE SEASON (unproduced and unpublished) written in 1957, meaning he is about to enter his 60th year of playwriting. Because Ayckbourn is such a prolific author it stands to reason that in six decades there would be quite a few of these fascinating 'fits and starts.' Murgatroyd neatly organizes them in one volume to fuel our Ayckbourn addiction, presenting us with a rare insider's glimpse at some previously UNSEEN AYCKBOURN.
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UNSEEN AYCKBOURN is published by Lulu Books and available at lulu.com, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Please visit alanayckbourn.net and ayckbourn.blogspot.co.uk.